A new you

Are you stuck in a job that really doesn’t suit you? Do you long to reinvent yourself professionally? A career overhaul can seem a daunting step but, with careful planning, you can achieve those unfulfilled ambitions

 

Amanda Ashton works as a graphic designer in the South Downs but longs to do something entirely different. “I’d really love to set myself up as a carpenter and turn out handmade pieces of furniture,” she admits.

Ashton is not alone in craving a complete change of career. According to a Pitman Training survey, 15% of us would like a different day job. Turning this aspiration into action is not necessarily simple. But it is possible.

Your first task is to decide what it is you really want to do. Jane Barrett, the director of career coaching consultancy Workmaze, points out that this can be easier said than done.

“Certainly some people will already have a clear idea of their future direction. Others, however, just won’t know which way to go next,” she says.

If the latter sounds like you, what can you do? Start with a self audit. List your strengths, skills and interests. Then write down what you like and dislike about your current role and what you want from any future position. Finally, note your values – what is important to you personally. Be honest. Be thorough.

Now do a career brainstorm. Think of jobs or business opportunities that fit with your abilities, enthusiasms and expectations. Use whatever you need for inspiration – a business directory, a recruitment website, the employment section of a newspaper or a specialist careers counsellor.

You may find you come up with lots of ideas – possibly too many. Here is the agony and ecstasy of choice. The solution is to rank your options.

Go on now to investigate your top preferences. For a job, find out: what it really involves, how much it pays, what type of vacancies are currently advertised and what type of training you need.

For a business, determine: what you would offer, the demand for your product or service, the mechanism for bringing it to the market, and the funding required to put it all into practice.

You should do a reality check even if you think you are fairly well informed. Read books, scan the papers, look at industry websites and flick through trade journals. Also, go to networking occasions where you can talk to people in the business. Arrange to shadow them for a day or two or offer to do some voluntary work.

Afterwards, compare your real view of the job or business opportunity with your imagined view. Expect to be surprised. Maybe shocked. Hopefully, also excited and enthused. “At the end of all this research and reflection you ought to be able to appreciate which job or business is most suited to you and your future,” says Barrett.

Figuring out how to realise that future is the next challenge.

“This can take more time and be more complicated than you might imagine,” cautions Ceri Diffley, an executive with the Work Foundation, an organisation that lobbies for good working practices.

“Changing careers is not a fast process,” she stresses. “It takes months and years rather than days and weeks.”

So, consider how long it will take you, how much it will cost you, and what impact it will have on those closest to you. Stay realistic. Then, identify which steps to do in which order. Bear in mind the one that is the easiest, the quickest, the least risky and the least expensive.

When it comes funding all this, you have various possibilities. Three experts – Steve Lodge, author of Finance for Life, Nick Lord, head of money issues at the Citizens Advice Bureau and Julian Crooks, an adviser with the Financial Planning Service – suggest the following:

· See if you can take a break from making your monthly mortgage payments.

· Alternatively, find out if you can reduce them by extending the life of your mortgage or by switching to a cheaper interest rate.

· Consider selling your house, buying something smaller and pocketing the difference.

· Release some of the equity tied up in your property.

· Reduce your overheads: shop for cheaper insurance, look for more competitive utility providers and cut back on luxuries.

· Apply for a grant. The Educational Grants Advisory Service and the Sponsorship Funding Directory can outline what is available for job shifters. For business start-ups, talk to your local Business Link centre.

· Get a career or a professional development loan, which can be used to cover tuition fees and some living expenses.

· Cash in some investments or dip into some savings. This may be the rainy day you have been waiting for.

The best way to get that first break is to network. “This can help you get to where you want to be much quicker,” says Gwen Rhys, manager of networking consultancy That’s the Trick.

She points out that networking can provide you with vital information about upcoming vacancies and introduce you to the people who do the hiring.

It can also give you invaluable intelligence on what the market is doing and where the dangers and opportunities lie.

Contact the relevant professional bodies and go to their meetings, seminars, dinners and lunches. Mix and mingle at other events where you are likely to meet people of interest and influence.

Of course, when it comes to getting a job, even if you make good contacts that lead to prospective interviews you may still not be chosen.

Carole Kanchier, in her book Dare to Change Your Job and Your Life (Jist Publishing), offers some useful advice.

Be sure your CV has been modified to suit the career you want to take on, not the one you want to leave behind.

Also, ensure you use each interview to convey confidently why you are up for the job – in the absence of any substantial experience, always highlight your promising potential, eagerness and energy.

It will be impossible to be stay continually positive during this rigorous reinvention process. Rob Yeung, an occupational psychologist, says: “Changing your career can effectively mean changing your life and that is bound to present difficulties.”

Carol Gaskell of the Life Coaching Company provides some words of wisdom on how to cope with those moments when you wonder whether you are doing the right thing.

“If your self-confidence is taking a bit of knock, revisit your list of capabilities and competencies. Read over it. Know it to be true,” she advises.

“Talk to friends and family who will help rebuild your inner faith. To overcome a sense of impatience, look at what you have already achieved and celebrate it. Remind yourself that the longer it takes, the more rewarding it will be.

“Finally, be inspired by the actions and achievements of others.”

Here are a few examples to file away. George Pitcher left public relations to enter the church. At the age of 61, Joan Stanely diversified from farming to internet publishing. Romany used to be a BT account manager and is now a full-time magician. Ian Gordon gave up corporate finance to study acupuncture. Lisa Maynard-Atem is moving out of retail marketing and into fashion styling.

Finally, remember to be courteous and correct in leaving your old job and thank everyone who assisted you.

Don’t be tempted to be anything other than scrupulous in all your words and deeds – you never know when you may next cross paths with former colleagues or clients.

Once you are actually in your new line of work, be prepared for a moment or two of doubt. It is only natural to ask yourself whether everything will work out as you intended.

Try to relax and give yourself plenty of time to adjust and adapt. Also, avoid judging your early performance too harshly. And if you don’t know something, just ask. Now is the time. People will never again be so indulgent. As Graham Green writes in The Career Change Handbook: “Start as you mean to go on.” After all, this is your chance to do things the way you want.

Want to know more?

Books

· The Career Change Handbook, by Graham Green (How To Books)
· Dare to Change Your Job and Your Life, by Carole Kanchier
(Jist Publishing)
· Planning a Career Change, by Judith Johnstone (How To Books)

Success stories

Lisa Grant had worked in banking for 25 years. But, just before turning 50, this City high-flyer resigned to indulge her passion for feng shui. She now runs her own feng shui practice, Silver Moon, in Worthing, West Sussex.

“I left banking two years ago. When I began to tell people what I was going to do, they looked at me like I was crazy.

“But no one tried to talk me out of my plans. In fact, once they got over the shock, they admired or even envied me. I would get comments like: ‘I wish I had the nerve to do what you’re doing; you’re being very brave.’

“I didn’t feel brave. I felt scared. It is frightening to enter the unknown, to give up your security. That was the most difficult thing.

“I was responsible for looking after a large portfolio of corporate clients. It was very pressured. I was good at it but no longer enjoyed it. I had reached an age when I wanted to ensure that the rest of my working life was as enjoyable as possible.

“I had long been fascinated by feng shui. As soon as I came across the concept eight years ago, I was hooked. In the end I had to give in.

“I didn’t take any risks. I thought everything through. I researched the market to see if there was a demand for what I wanted to do. There was.

“Then I reviewed my finances to see if I could afford to cover the costs of doing a feng shui course and a business start-up course and then set up the business. I decided I could.

“I minimised my spending, cashed in some savings and downsized, selling my three-bedroom house and buying a smaller semi nearby. I protected myself further by taking on part-time accountancy work.

“I am still doing that while Silver Moon gets up to full speed. There is no rush. The business launched 12 months ago and is moving along very nicely.

“I don’t have any regrets. Changing careers is daunting but worth it. I feel really excited about my future now. I am free and independent and able to do something I really love.”

Jamie Jackson, a recent business graduate, wanted to get into human resources but somehow got stuck in marketing. With time, energy and a bit of luck, this 26-year-old has made the switch. He is now six months into a training and development role with an international fundraising organisation.

“I studied commerce at the University of British Columbia in Canada. I came to the UK four years ago looking for a change and an opportunity.

“What I found when I got here wasn’t really what I expected. Life over here was different, and that was great, but jobs were much harder to come by.

“I found it impossible to break into the area I was really interested in.

“Eventually I took a job as a marketing assistant. It turned out to be quite good at it and worked my way up. In my last position I was a director but I still wasn’t happy.

“I’d think of having to promote a particular product or service for the rest of my life and I’d feel depressed. To me, it was a bleak prospect.

“So, in my spare time and with my own money I started to invest in training, reading and networking – all around HR. I did classes, read books and went to seminars, meetings and dinners.

“I joined several recruitment companies and made myself known to a few headhunters.

“About six months ago one of them rang and offered me something. They said it was in the charity sector and I initially turned it down. I saw myself more in private enterprise. But when the role and the organisation were explained, I changed my mind – and I’m so glad I did.

“I really enjoy training, developing and helping motivate fundraisers. It’s very energising to work with a group of people and try to get the best out of them. And I seem to be achieving promising results.

“It hasn’t all been easy. The hardest part was dealing with my self-confidence. It is always difficult starting a new job, but it is a 100 times more difficult when you are starting a in a new field.

“You do sometimes have to remind yourself you can do it. Even then you can still have doubts but you just have to do it anyway.”

In his own way, Jon Carr, 31, was a rebel. Everything pointed to him becoming a teacher but he turned to law. After two years as a lawyer, he realised he would rather be in the classroom than in court. He now works as a trainee teacher at a private secondary school in Guildford, Surrey.

“I used to wake up each morning and think: ‘Oh no; I don’t want to go in today.’ And I just thought, well, maybe that’s what life is like. It is such a relief to find it is not.

“I left law about 18 months ago. I was with a large provincial firm in Brighton. I felt like I wasn’t doing anything constructive. I was disillusioned by the endless litigation, which didn’t seem necessary or beneficial.

“I suppose I could have moved to a different firm to see if that made a different to my job satisfaction. But, to be honest, I didn’t really want to spend five or six years waiting.

“I think I knew what I’d always wanted to do – I just needed to finally go and do it.

“Both my parents were teachers, I was drawn to teachers and people said I would be good at the job. I suppose I rebelled against that. It didn’t surprise my friends and family when I gave in.

“My colleagues, however, thought I was mad. They thought it was a leap in the dark. And it is, in some ways. But as soon as you’ve made it, it seems like a perfectly natural thing to do.

“I am really enjoying what I am doing. I am learning on the job, teaching politics, economics and geography. Every day is different. There is so much variety, freedom and creativity.

“I feel I’m doing something that is socially beneficial. But I’m also doing something rewarding and fulfilling. I am here for myself as much as for the students.

“In the future I’d like to work in different types of schools and possibly teach overseas. I feel there are a lot of options.

“I don’t have any regrets. Not even giving up the prospect of earning all that money as a lawyer.”

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